Mean streak: Freshman lineman Jack Jones a 'pleasant surprise' for UT Vols

The University of Tennessee's Andrew Butcher (52) has his helmet ripped off by Jack Jones (66) during the Dish Orange & White Game in Knoxville on Saturday, April 25, 2015.

KNOXVILLE -- It's fairly easy to spot Jack Jones at Tennessee's football practices.

Just look for the hair flowing out of the back and sides of the freshman offensive lineman's helmet.

For most of the last week, until Jones sat out practices Saturday and Monday nights, you could find the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder at right guard with Tennessee's' first-team offensive line, and though the Volunteers have been missing a few players up front throughout training camp, Jones appears to be very much in the mix for a starting spot.

"He plays with a mean streak," Vols guard Jashon Robertson said last week. "Wild man's got the hair flowing through the helmet and all that, so that's good stuff. There's a lot of swag behind that.

"I like the way Jack plays. He's going to be a guy that's going to be technically sound in his technique, especially by the end of all this. He'll be a for-sure technician.

"I enjoy Jack's approach every day. He's a happy-hearted guy (with) a lot of energy. He definitely displays that in our room day in and day out."

With Marcus Jackson likely out for the season with torn biceps and Robertson out of practice with a sprained ankle, Jones stepped in and stabilized the situation a little bit for the Vols.

The question now is whether Robertson will supplant Jones when he's healthy, or has the freshman shown enough for Robertson to play left guard or center?

Brett Kendrick, who is versatile enough to play anywhere on the line, spent most of the last week playing left guard and "showed a lot of promise" in last week's scrimmage, offensive line coach Don Mahoney said.

Robertson and Kendrick were absent from Monday night's practice as well, so redshirt freshman Charles Mosley and Dylan Wiesman, coming back from an injury of his own, continue to take the first-team reps.

photo Jack Jones (66) poses for a photo during The University of Tennessee Football Media Day at Neyland Stadium on Friday, August 14, 2015.

Missing four of their top guards isn't making it easier for the Vols in their search for the best combination on an offensive line that is the team's biggest question mark heading into the season.

"That's kind of like the season, too, when you get guys banged up and all that," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said after Monday night's practice. "We're rolling some guys around a little. As we've said from the start of this, we're going to find out who the five best are, and then who number six, seven and eight are.

"That's just the process that we are (in), and we want to try to zero in on that as fast as we can."

Though he spent spring practice playing right tackle, Jones has transitioned fairly seamlessly to guard, and Mahoney said he's been "one of the most pleasant surprises" of Tennessee's preseason.

"We always were impressed with his athleticism overall," Mahoney said.

"The workload that he had this spring was valuable from a terminology standpoint and all that, so to transition from tackle to guard, he's just been able to put it together in a short period of time and also put it in the manner we want him to as far as being physical. We still aren't there yet with that, but he's getting better and better every day.

"It's been really encouraging."

Robertson can relate a little bit to what Jones is going through now. He began his career on the defensive line, switched to offense after a few practices last preseason and started every game there as a freshman.

Strength is the biggest difference between the freshman versions of Robertson and Jones.

"From a technical standpoint, they're both probably about the same," Mahoney said. "From an overall strength standpoint, Jack has done a really good job as far as making gains from January to now. Jashon was structurally built differently at his age coming in early and is a little bit ahead of Jack in that regard.

"That's it. But Jack's worked his tail off to get to a weight where he's able to hold up inside. His bend, his flexibility and leverage allows him to overcompensate for some things that he might be lacking a little bit just because of the age that he's at where his strength gains will continue."

Mahoney wants to go through another week of practice before settling on a starting five, so there's still time for Jones, a four-star recruit, to show enough for Tennessee to start a freshman at guard for a second straight season.

"The one thing I like about Jack a lot is he really buys into what you tell him," Robertson said. "He absorbs coaching. He takes the film room to the field. Whatever it is as far as scheme, technique - he picks it up pretty well. Of course, there's still a lot of improvement to go, but he'll make those strides and make those improvements going into the season.

"I believe Jack will be able to help us."

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